Lemoyne is happy to announce Manuel Stehli’s first solo show in Zurich titled ‘strangers when we meet’.
In a time in which social media is sometimes the only way to interact with the outside world, Manuel Stehli’s paintings examine current concepts of distance and intimacy. The mostly large-scale paintings do not intend to tell concrete stories, but rather to inspire individual confrontation through gestural and formal experiments. Stehli’s ordinary everyday scenes evoke a feeling of alienation, apathy and fatigue. The apparent intimacies that the artist implies between the portrayed, which are expressed in postures, gestures and facial expressions, vanish in another place into a moment of loneliness and abstraction.
These portraits are not portraits in a literal sense, but rather placeholders, as Stehli often uses stock images, Instagram profiles, games, and art historical references as inspiration for his motifs. He is particularly interested in clichéd poses, stereotypical gestures and facial expressions that inhabit the countless Instafeeds and games. In contrast to Marianne Wex, for example, who in the 1970s due to her extensive studies unmasked gender-typical gestures and facial expressions as performatively trained stereotypes, in Stehli’s work attributes such as gender, as well as skin color, ethnicity or individual style play a minor role. The artist does not allow any references to real persons, but instead synthesizes many into one, creates persons without personality, Menschen ohne Eigenschaften. Only minimal gestures and postures – for example, the position of a hand or an arm – make them seem to be alive and therefore become signifiers.
Stehli’s sitters do not seek eye contact, they have no interest in interacting with each other or with us. In untitled (2020) two people lean against a counter, turned towards each other, their hands casually placed in their pockets. Their bodies seem to know each other, as they stand close to each other, touching, merging. At the same time, however, both stare with disinterest into the void, in different directions, expressionless and almost bored – as if they were strangers – or have become strangers. With the help of painterly methods, such as color scheme, gradations and overlapping color fields, but also picture details, Stehli succeeds in creating certain emotional worlds, oscillating between distance and intimacy and thereby questioning boundaries.
Stehli’s architectural motifs and landscapes are also often simulations. He borrows them from computer games and then deconstructs them to unveil their formal structure. These reproductions of reproductions are as inaccessible as Stehli’s portraits. The knowledge of their constructed nature is the very reason why it is impossible to identify with them, thereby exposing the artificiality of the digital world. Nevertheless, Stehli’s pictorial worlds fascinate us, as they turn us into voyeurs who try unsuccessfully to connect with what is visualized and, just like in the digital world, let us fail due to the limit of physical distance.
Stehli studied art in Leipzig and London and lives and works in Berlin.
Text by Kristin Brüggemann